Establishing and integrating a trauma-informed approach to addressing mental and substance use disorders is important not only for individuals, but for communities as well. To further this goal, SAMHSA recently published Spotlight: Building Resilient and Trauma-Informed Communities, a series that highlights efforts underway in six different cities across the United States to build trauma-informed, resilient communities.

SAMHSA defines a trauma-informed approach as one where people realize the prevalence of trauma, recognize the impact and responses to trauma, and resist practices that could cause more harm.

The Spotlight Series

Following are some examples of trauma-informed community programs from the Spotlights.

Kansas City

KCPS - Molly Ticknor with a Power Plan

Molly Ticknor, Director of Mental Health Services with Kansas City Public Schools, holding a “Power Plan” that teachers and student create in trauma-informed schools to keep them in tune with their own self-care.

In Kansas City, MO, advocates for trauma-informed care organized Trauma Matters KC (TMKC), bringing together 40 organizations to address social and economic challenges. The Spotlight describes their collective action to build resilience and to address special needs. For example, in the Kansas City Trauma Sensitive Schools, children and teachers create their own self-care plans as a tool for managing stress or distress during the day.

Spotlight: Kansas City: One of the most striking aspects of TMKC is the breadth of community involvement. At any monthly meeting you might find a landscape architect whose designs promote resilience, a judge who runs a trauma-informed court, an author or journalist who wants to learn more, a sports coach concerned about the young people on his team, or a community planner considering implications for urban development.

Tarpon Springs

Another Spotlight looks at the strides made in Tarpon Springs, FL. After learning about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE), Tarpon Springs former commissioner and vicemayor Robin Saenger initiated a community effort called Peace4Tarpon (P4T). This effort gathered city officials, professionals, and city residents into a group that coordinated multiple trauma-informed activities including a library-sponsored community education day, and a public “peace flags” event in which businesses and residents donated a wide variety of efforts and materials.

Building on the P4T effort, the Pinellas Ex-Offender Reentry Program (PERC) Clinical Director, Denise Hughes Conlon, added ACE assessment into PERC evaluations and found surprisingly high scores for childhood trauma among this population. In response, she incorporated the Seeking Safety curriculum into PERC’s substance abuse treatment program.

Spotlight: Tarpon Springs: “If one person or agency expresses a need, chances are good that someone else will meet it.”

Philadelphia

The Porch Light Program in Philadelphia uses art as a public health strategy, strengthening community engagement, promoting behavioral health recovery, and addressing social and economic factors such as poverty, racism, violence, and resource disparities. People with behavioral health concerns and intellectual disabilities work side-by-side with service providers, local funders, academics, and local artists to create public art in neighborhoods across the city. The process improves morale, builds connections, and heals communities by exploring health related issues.

Spotlight: Philadelphia: “Relationships forged during the process often lead to ongoing activities. In one neighborhood, the collaboration led to a yearly conference to address community concerns.”

“The effects of traumatic events place a heavy burden on individuals, families and communities and create challenges for public institutions and service systems,” said Larke Huang, Ph.D., SAMHSA’s Trauma and Justice Strategic Initiative Lead and Director of the Office of Behavioral Health Equity. “We hope these spotlights will motivate other cities and regions to consider how they can take similar steps in their communities.”

SAMHSA offers many resources for addressing trauma, including SAMHSA’s National Center for Trauma-Informed Care, a technical assistance center, which provides training and support to organizations throughout the United States. Additional resources are provided below.

SAMHSA's Six Principles of a Trauma-Informed Approach

Learn more about SAMHSA’s 6 Principles of a Trauma-Informed Approach in the Spotlight Introduction.